ROCK FALLS – A lease agreement between the city and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the Jim Arduini Boat Launch area has expired and some roadblocks exist in hammering out a new pact.
The boat launch area, at 800 E. Second St., is at the connecting point for the Rock River and the Hennepin Canal. Opened in 1988, the launch site provides access to the Sinnissippi Lake. The site includes picnic and fishing areas, parking for boat trailers and a lookout area at the Kiwanis Pavilion.
The canal and launch area was built with federal money, but it is now the responsibility of the IDNR. The city has 16 lease agreements with the agency, but the boat launch pact is the only one that doesn’t require a fee from the city.
The lease agreements generally update the state on local plans for the areas and break down the maintenance responsibilities. The state’s budgetary problems and severe understaffing at IDNR have made it increasingly difficult to get the work done. The Coloma Township Park District helps take care of the boat launch area.
Before signing a new lease agreement, the city wants the state’s help in getting some pricier projects finished at the boat launch. The most expensive is dredging the canal area, a job that is estimated at $150,000.
The canal never has been dredged, which has allowed silt to build up on the bottom. In addition to making it difficult for boats to move, the silt can impact plant life, water quality, drainage and aesthetics.
“The dredging is definitely the biggest issue,” Alderman Jim Schuneman said. “The water isn’t very deep at the launch because it comes around the bend and just deposits everything right there.”
The city applied for a dredging application 4 years ago, but pursued it no further after learning of the cost. The water also must be tested for contaminants. Dredging responsibilities weren’t specifically addressed in the previous agreement with the state.
The city also wants to discuss a need for new bathrooms and dead trees that need to be taken down.
“The bathrooms are from 1988, and they aren’t working right,” City Clerk Eric Arduini said. “It’s a hybrid composting system and our guys have said that they can’t be fixed.”
Many recreational areas collect minimal portage fees to help with upkeep, but the city’s hands are tied on that option.
“Federal money was used for the ramp and canal, so we can’t charge at all,” Mayor Bill Wescott said. “No plan was ever developed for general maintenance.”
Without a lease, the city technically has no claim to the boat launch area, but the IDNR has told the city it has no plans to restrict use of the area.
After staffing cuts, IDNR has only one person in Springfield working on all of its lease agreements, which has slowed down the process under any circumstances.
The federal government passed along responsibility for the canal to IDNR in 1951.